What are the benefits of open access publishing, and how can we improve equity in academic and medical communications?

We at Open Pharma have been very vocal about the benefits of open access publishing and believe that the impact of these benefits on research and wider communities speaks for itself. Put simply, open access publishing enables equity, accessibility, transparency, inclusion and scientific exchange, and improves patient care; practising open science principles has demonstrably accelerated the global scientific response to COVID-19, likely saving countless lives in the process.

For pharmaceutical companies, one of the biggest drivers of publishing open access is improving transparency but also ensuring that research is accessible to all healthcare practitioners in an attempt to shorten the patient journey to diagnosis. Many medical conditions often require multiple visits and assessments in order for doctors to reach a diagnosis – general practitioners and paediatricians don’t always have the time, expertise or subscription access to search the literature in depth. Immediate and free access to medical research could help to streamline the journey to diagnosis and empower practitioners to answer difficult questions. Patients can also benefit directly by improving their own knowledge of their condition. With regard to equity, there are significant disparities in access to research and different types of medical libraries for researchers and doctors from different countries around the globe – open access publishing can remove this financial barrier.

For publishers, open collaboration and open research are accelerators of knowledge and can aid discoverability. Significant progress has been made in the past 10 years to move the industry in this direction, with access expanded to thousands of institutions, not to mention the global drive towards open access principles and practices in response to COVID-19 and other public health crises. Additionally, public access initiatives exist to enable public libraries to provide free access to open content to their readership, a practice that can widen the reach of open research beyond academic and industry circles. However, this is not a sufficient solution; members of the public are often unaware of such initiatives or do not have access to public libraries, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The question now is how to continue to transform the industry in a sustainable way for all stakeholders. For example, about half of the Wiley journals are published in partnership with professional societies for whom membership is a key financial driver. These societies and their journals are important components of the research ecosystem, and many have concerns about the financial sustainability of open access; it’s going to be a case of moving the whole industry forwards in a way that holds together the key stakeholders.

For patients, the benefits of open access can be “a matter of life and death”. This is especially the case in the field of rare diseases, where there are few resources available and the majority of information is in the academic literature. Subsidized subscriptions are one option for widening access for patients and the public; however, the question remains of why the financial burden should fall on the users, especially those in lower- and middle-income countries. The challenge now is to avoid putting the financial burden on those who are the least able to afford it and who have the most need for it, but for publishers and industry to carry this responsibility.

This blog post was adapted from a multi-stakeholder panel discussion, featuring Peter Llewellyn (NetworkPharma and MedComms Networking), Chris Winchester (Oxford PharmaGenesis and Open Pharma), Valérie Philippon (Takeda), Gavin Sharrock (Wiley) and Durhane Wong-Rieger (Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders), and reflects the views of the individuals, not those of their respective companies. A recording of the discussion is available on demand for free at NetworkPharma.tv and on YouTube.

If you’re interested in joining the open access movement or learning more about it, you can read and endorse the Open Pharma position statement here.

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